By John Baker
The St. Ignatius girls basketball team probably thought there wasn’t much more pressure than playing against its rival in a full-to-the-rafters college gymnasium.
Then it ran into Sacred Heart Cathedral’s defensive scheme.
The Irish stifled St. Ignatius’ shooting and beat the Wildcats 46-41 on Tuesday night in a West Catholic Athletic League matchup at the University of San Francisco.
“The atmosphere was pretty intense,” said Sacred Heart junior guard GeAnna Summers-Luaulu, the game’s leading scorer with 15 points. “We were nervous, but it was just another game, just in a different gym. We knew [to] just stay calm and it would be a lot of fun.”
It probably didn’t actually feel like fun for Sacred Heart Cathedral until the fourth quarter, when its defensive pressure limited the Wildcats to only six points and one field goal. In fact, the game didn’t start out amusing at all for the Irish.
After Sacred Heart (10-2, 3-0) scored the first points of the game just 53 seconds in, St. Ignatius went on a 10-0 run over the next four minutes, but the Irish came back with their own 9-0 run to get within two points after a quarter.
“Our nerves started to catch up to us, but coach told us to calm down [and] play with heart again, and it was all good,” Summers-Luaulu said.
How good? The Irish went on a 12-3 run to start the second quarter on the strength of their defense. Unable to penetrate, St. Ignatius (10-3, 0-2) made just 2-of-14 shots from the floor in the frame.
“Once we settled down, we were able to get set, come out and execute our game plan,” said Sacred Heart Cathedral head coach LyRyan Russell. “It’s about having other teams play against constant pressure. The more they can play under pressure, the better.”
It was the second straight game that St. Ignatius wilted in the second quarter, after being outscored 25-6 in the same frame against Mitty last week.
“We didn’t set good screens, we didn’t come hard enough to the ball and we didn’t make good decisions,” said St. Ignatius head coach Michael Mulkerrins. “We had an uphill battle after halftime because we had a horrendous second quarter.”
St. Ignatius did mount a comeback in the third quarter and even took a brief lead on a layup by sophomore forward Erin Hanley with 1:24 left, but the Irish regrouped. The teams went into the fourth quarter tied at 35-35, and the Irish defense took it from there – this time limiting the Wildcats to a 1-for-12 shooting mark in final 8 minutes.
“I think overall, there’s no doubt they’re playing hard, but they’re not making the right reads on offense,” Mulkerrins said. “To be honest, you can pat Mitty on the back, you can pat Sacred Heart on the back. They’re good programs. However, we beat [ourselves] in both games.”
Highlighting the St. Ignatius offensive difficulties, Brianna Beckman, who led the Wildcats with nine points, was held scoreless after the halftime break once defensive attention was shifted to her. No St. Ignatius player had more than three field goals.
But there will be no resting on laurels for the Irish. With games against St. Francis and Valley Christian later this week, Russell joked he would let his team celebrate only until they got on the bus.
“They handled their business tonight,” Russell said. “Now we’ve got to get ready for two tough opponents this week. So enjoy it right now, but once we get out of here, we’ve got to get ready for our next two games.”
Sacred Heart Cathedral
GeAnna Summers-Luaulu – 15
Juliet Courtney – 6
Jerrieza Enriquez – 6
Briannah Smith – 6
Ashanti Coleman – 5
Brianna Beckman – 9
Erin Hanley – 8
Tatiana Ranis – 6
Crystal Sun – 6
Sydney Raggio – 4